With Christmas less than a week away, you no doubt have a lot on your mind – last-minute presents, who’s bringing what to Christmas lunch and, in many cases, plans to travel to visit distant loved ones.
What you may not expect during this busy but merry period is the confronting realisation when you get together that a change has occurred in your mum, dad or another beloved older relative. While regular contact over the phone may have assured you that things were fine, going home to see your parents can paint a different picture, whether it’s through noticing that they’ve lost weight, that their home is less clean or tidy or that unpaid bills are piling up.
But how do you identify whether these changes are a worrying sign of a decline in a loved one’s ability to care for themselves or just the result of a busy few weeks in the lead up to the festive season?
Gemma Buckley, lead consultant in the aged care and disability reform team at Anglicare Southern Queensland, works closely with a team of professionals who understand this situation well.
She says that the Anglicare team usually see an increase in uptake of in-home care in the weeks following Christmas because the occasion brings dispersed families face-to-face, where the reality of a family member’s struggles can be more apparent.
She says that it’s ideal for families to seek such help at the early signs home help is needed. rather than wait for a crisis event (such as a serious injury or illness) to seek help. Waiting until a crisis can add to the stress of the time and even force families to accept home-care services that are less than ideal for their treasured parent or relative.
The signs to watch for in your loved ones
Based on her long expertise in aged care, Buckley categorises the signs that an older family member may need in-home care into four groups: physical functions, household functions, personal appearance and cognitive abilities.
“Signs of physical function decline can include difficulty in walking and moving about the house,” she explains. “Maybe this person is now relying on chairs, walls or other furniture to help them as they walk around the house. They might have difficulty getting up out of a seat, maybe taking them a couple of attempts to do this”.
“The really undeniable sign here is an increase in falls and unintentional weight loss.”
Buckley describes a decline in ‘household function’, meanwhile, as a decreased ability to complete regular daily tasks, such as making the bed, washing dishes and doing laundry, that would have been the norm previously.
“The house is generally a bit more untidy or seems unclean,” she says. “There might be a lack of fresh food in the fridge, with a strong sign being spoiled food left in the fridge.”
A change in personal appearance can often be the “red flag” that alerts more distant family members that their formerly well-groomed relative may need additional care at home, Buckley says.
“A sign of this may be a reduced frequency of showering or bathing, which is often signified by a change in body odour, a change or decline in their grooming, for example, their hair isn’t washed or isn’t brushed, nails might be untrimmed, and they might be wearing clothing that’s stained or dirty,” she explains.
Changes in cognitive abilities, however, can be more difficult to spot because they usually occur slowly and may not be apparent unless an extended time is spent with the person. Among the diverse signs of cognitive decline, these changes can take the shape of difficulties in habits, forgetfulness or even changes in personality.
“In person, it’s more obvious to see that they’re having difficulty keeping the time or that they might not be interested in things they once were,” Buckley notes. “You might see that where they used to be more outgoing, they’re now relatively withdrawn.
“But they also might be having difficulty with normal, everyday tasks like making a cup of tea. We often see women who have been very proactive in baking and cooking, who know their favourite recipes like the back of their hand, are suddenly asking what’s in the recipe, or what to do next.”
Increased confusion over medication, such as forgetting to fill regular prescriptions or take regular doses, or confusing one medication for another, may be another common sign of cognitive decline.
You’ve spotted the signs, so what next?
Exploring in-home care options is an active way of helping your loved one to age independently at home, while minimising the risks to their health or safety.
“It’s important that we all accept we can’t do everything forever,” Buckley says, “but timely planning helps us keep on top of conditions, take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, and minimises the stress that can happen through the aging process.”
There’s a broad spectrum of what a carer can help with, and receiving in-home care entails a customised service that caters to how much assistance a person needs.
“At one end of the spectrum, a carer might provide a very low-level of assistance once or twice a week, putting a load of laundry on, working with the person to cook meals – it’s just to help the client remain independent and living at home,” Buckley explains. “This can range to a higher level of daily assistance with medications, personal hygiene and showering, grooming tasks and preparation of lunch and dinner. This level of assistance may be required to assist somebody with dementia or a chronic illness.”
It’s also important to recognise that in a couple, the person who’s caring for a partner that needs help can be at risk of their own physical and emotional wellbeing being impacted, so obtaining in-home assistance is often a benefit for both people.
Anglicare’s no-obligation concierge service is another avenue for getting expert guidance in this area. The concierge service team make home visits to meet your family for a conversation about what your loved one is experiencing, how they would like their life to look and how a plan to achieve that outcome can be created. They can also help you and your family navigate the aged care system and apply for financial support to cover the cost of services. To get in touch, contact Anglicare Southern Queensland online or by phone on 1300 610 610.
It’s never easy for somebody to acknowledge that their ageing process is affecting their ability to do things they’ve always been able to do. But day-to-day living doesn’t have to be a struggle, when a request for in-home care is made at the right time to ensure a person’s independence is optimised and their wellness maximised.
Have you had to make the call on whether a loved one needs assistance to age in place? What signs did you act on?
Anglicare’s Help at Home services support your loved ones to live independently in their own home. We understand that every situation is different and often families need help to navigate the Aged Care system to arrange the best care for the people you love.